1938: Italy defends title, and war breaks out

With war clouds hovering over Europe, the 1938 championship was awarded to France and only 15 teams competed after Austria pulled out in the last minute following its annexation by Germany.

Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szabo tries to stop a shot from Italian forward Giovanni Ferrari during the World Cup final in Colombes, in the suburbs of Paris on June 19, 1938 . Italy defended its title with a 4-2 victory.   -  AFP

Casanova Guiseppe Meazza lost his shorts but Italy still managed to defend its title and shrug off the corruption charges that marred its win four years before.

With war clouds hovering over Europe, the 1938 championship was awarded to France and only 15 teams competed after Austria pulled out in the last minute following its annexation by Germany. Italy downed Hungary 4-2 in a hard-fought final. Meazza, one of the most popular footballers in Europe, playing for Inter Milan at that point, provided one of the most hilarious Cup moments during the semifinal against Brazil.

Italy was awarded a penalty after Silvio Piola was chopped down in the box by Brazil’s Domingos da Guia. Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, celebrated back home for hypnotising rival forwards, arrogantly claimed his superiority. Meazza made no fuss and stepped in to take the kick and with all eyes on the duo, theatrically the forward’s shorts fell down to his knees supposedly due to the elastic waist band being pulled and stretched earlier by a defender. (But many fans still believe it was part of the striker’s ploy in the lead up to the kick.) Without unduly getting affected by such travesty, Meazza pulled up his shorts with one hand and shot past the confused Walter, who was still busy laughing. Meazza’s team-mates joined in the celebrations and a new pair of shorts was duly produced. The goal sent Italy to its second consecutive World Cup final.

Host: France

Teams: 15

Matches: 18

Goals: 84

Attendance: 3,75,700

Winner: Italy

Golden Boot: Leônidas (BRA) — 7 goals

Best Goalkeeper: František Plánička (Czechoslovakia)

Best Player: Leônidas (BRA)

Earlier, in the first round, Brazilian forward Leonidas struck a hat-trick as the South American side triumphed 6-5 after extra time over Poland. But one must spare a thought for Poland’s Ernest Wilimowski, who became the first man to net four goals in a World Cup match but still finish on the losing side.

But for Leonidas, the tournament was far from over, and the ‘Rubber Man’, as he was known in Brazil for his acrobatic skills, ended up as the top scorer with seven strikes. Surprisingly, he was kept out of the semifinal clash against Italy, which Brazil lost as it settled for third spot.

World War II forced a break on the World Cup till 1950 and Italy remained the world champion till then, for a record 16-year stretch.

The Jules Rimet trophy itself was saved from falling into the hands of the occupying Allied armies as the Italian vice-president of FIFA, Ottorino Barassi, kept it hidden in a shoebox below his bed during the war period.